Mr Graham Pyle: This is the first instance where we have met people who want to make the pie bigger.’
Mr Graham Pyle address to NSW Legislative Council Committee.
‘This is the first instance where we have met people who want to make the pie bigger.’
Mr. PYLE: I congratulate you on coming down to meet with us. This is the first instance where we have met people who want to make the pie bigger. Everybody else has been most diligent in making our pie smaller.
We have been inundated with red tape. We have read recently that red tape in Australia is costing us $65 billion a year. This is a massive red-tape storm. Take the issue of salt. That was the predication for the MDBA (Murray Darling Basin Authority) plan in the first instance. Talk and documents proved that the MDBA was on about removing two million tonnes, by flow, at Murray Mouth. As recently as two weeks ago the chairman of the MDBA acknowledged that it is one million tonnes per annum, now. He sent me documents that struggle to prove that beyond half a million tonnes of salt must be removed at Murray Mouth.
‘There is a huge area in the south-east of South Australia that is not in the plan…. at New South Wales’s great cost’
We also struggle with the concept that the watershed for the entire Murray Darling basin is larger than the basin. This is a large segment. We implored the MDBA to refer to the Murray Darling Basin Plan as a “partial Murray Darling Basin Plan” until that is corrected. There is a huge area in the south-east of South Australia that is not in the plan. That is at New South Wales’s great cost, because that water could be used to fix the Coorong and the Lower Lakes.
‘The MDBA is supposed to be in control of environmental water flows. Clearly it is not.’
The MDBA is supposed to be in control of environmental water flows. Clearly it is not. It did not communicate with other major water suppliers in New South Wales pre winter. A vast amount of water came out of Snowy Hydro while they were sending water out of Dartmouth Dam. This has impacts on our allocation. This is a direct cost to us, and the MDBA has not acknowledged this, as yet. We want evidence from the MDBA about what they did, and why they did it.
‘Predominantly, the people in Broken Hill are pensioners, and will not be able to absorb that huge cost.’
The Menindee Lakes project is a farce. It is under “commercial-in-confidence Cabinet”, whatever that is, so we get no access to what is going on.
The ACTING CHAIR: Are you talking about the Broken Hill pipeline?
Mr. PYLE: The Broken Hill pipeline. The New South Wales Government has signed up to spend $500 million on a whim to keep political votes in Broken Hill. When that money is levied against the people in Broken Hill they will all have to move. Predominantly, the people in Broken Hill are pensioners, and will not be able to absorb that huge cost.
There was an alternative—the Talyawalka aquifer. That has been pooh-poohed by all and sundry. That is a great shame. Golder Associates (http://www.golder.com.au) did a lot of work on that. They confirmed with me that that water is good, and could be utilized to the great benefit of the district and to our SDL program (Sustainable Diversion Limit – the amount of water available for productive use).
‘I can show you what inundation does at Yarrawonga Lake. All the trees are dead, so that clearly does not work’
We do not get told what our SDL number is. That is the huge elephant in the SDL room in the Murray Darling Basin Plan. I asked the DPI (Dep’t Primary Industries NSW) about the measurement for the benefit to forests, and the best that they could come up with was inundation. So, if the forests are being inundated the forests have everything going well for them. I can show you what inundation does at Yarrawonga Lake. All the trees are dead, so that clearly does not work. The evaluation of benefit for forests is lacking.
‘We have a huge problem in connecting with DPI (Dep’t Primary Industry NSW)’
We have a huge problem in connecting with DPI. I am sorry that it is not in our statement, but we did this in August. I thought that the staff of DPI just did not like me; apparently, they do not like anyone. I have been with representatives of the MDBA and Snowy Hydro recently, and they get the same level of contact with DPI. I have spoken with the Minister responsible for water, Niall Blair. I asked him for a diagram of all the people in DPI and all the people in Water NSW, and an indication of who does what. I wanted a picture of them, a job description, their number and email address so that we could ring up and say, “What about this?” or “What about that?” You would think that that was pretty straight forward, but not in DPI land—everything goes through two people. It is a fanciful notion that the whole benefit of irrigation in New South Wales is conducted through two people. That notion is alive and well.
‘…. assets that we pay our fees and charges on are not described.’
I asked about assets. That was mentioned previously. I brought up the fact that the assets that we pay our fees and charges on are not described. So we have no idea what they are. I brought it up with then Treasurer Berejiklian. She told me about community obligations. I do not know how to enact that, and I do not see why we should. I would have thought it was straightforward that assets are assets and that they would be clearly listed, with the value and the percentage that we have to pay for each asset. But that has not been forthcoming. So I would regard Water NSW charges as a tax, and on top of that they require a 20 per cent benefit on assets that we do not know anything about.
‘…450 gigalitres of upwater is still alive… That was sharp practice by the MDBA.’
The issue of the 450 gigalitres of up-water blew up the other day when Tony Burke raised it. We had an inkling that it was embedded in the legislation—that if anybody used the 1.7 billion, the 450 gigalitres of upwater was still alive. By “we” I mean, NSW Irrigators’ Council, the National Irrigators Council, DPI, and the Victorian Government. I do not think anybody outside a select few in the MDBA were aware of the legislation connotation that if anyone uses the 1.7 billion the 450 gigs is alive and well.
Everybody outside the MDBA was working under the assumption that it was the triple bottom line and/or constraints, and that the 450 gigalitres would fall off the table. That is not true. That was sharp practice by the MDBA, and that is nowhere near good enough for us. I am sorry that I have taken up all this time, but I am really upset at the deal that we get. I am absolutely thrilled that you are here to hear our pleas.
‘We are up against a machine that is probably $25 million DPI and we are up against a $34 million outfit at the MDBA…. They have no trouble in flipping answers, sending us down wild goose chase…’
The ACTING CHAIR: Mr. Pyle, you were very critical of the proposed Broken Hill pipeline in your opening statement.
Mr. PYLE: Yes.
The ACTING CHAIR: What are you concerns about that pipeline? What will the impact be on your users?
Mr. PYLE: I would ask the Minister for water in this room for a guarantee that under no circumstances would any benefit in water, or by not sending water down, move to the northern basin. He waxed lyrical on all aspects of everything but did not guarantee me that no benefit would go to the northern basin.
Since then there has been some conjecture—and this is all I have got because I am the only person who gets paid; I do not get paid anywhere near enough for the work that I do but these two people sitting either side of me—Ms Burge and Ms Scoullar—do not get paid at all. We are up against a machine that is probably $25 million DPI and we are up against a $34 million outfit at the MDBA. They have no trouble in flipping answers, sending us down wild goose chases and a myriad of things when clearly all we want to know is what is going on.
We are coming up to time for SDLs (Sustainable Diversion Limits). We should be clear as to what the major one is and the ramifications for us so that we can start planning or doing whatever we have got to do, but we get nothing back. When you ask the Minister for a guarantee that nothing is going north and you don’t get it, you can see why we panic a bit.
‘We are also worried..…at some later stage that Murray irrigators should pay the upkeep or partial upkeep of the half billion dollar pipeline.’
Now the Talyawalka aquifer is a beautiful place to store water; it does not evaporate. The pipeline from Menindee to Broken Hill would have to be replaced but its 140 kilometres as against 275, and also there is an additional 15 metres to go up hill. The benefits that way are pretty obvious. Three hundred million is a fair sum. I would have thought the Treasurer and/or the Premier of New South Wales might see the error of their ways but apparently the pipeline is going ahead under this commercial-in-confidence
We are also worried about where the money may come from in terms of asset refurbishment, and whether it could be inferred at some later stage that Murray irrigators should pay the upkeep or partial upkeep of the half billion dollar pipeline. We have not had that clearly recounted to us either.
‘….the complete lack of guidance from the Department of Primary Industries’
On sustainable diversion adjustment mechanisms, we have spoken about the complete lack of guidance from the Department of Primary Industries [DPI] on what is going on at Menindee and a raft of other places. When we put up sustainable diversion limits [SDLs] to the MDBA we are not privy to the methods or the conjecture that they are put through. We just get told whether they make the grade or not.
‘Two people from the MDBA pretty much ridiculed Golder Associates’ (Water infrastructure construction) every proposal.’
On Thursday I was in a meeting with Golder Associates, the MDBA, the Deputy Prime Minister’s office and the people from northern Australia. Two people from the MDBA pretty much ridiculed Golder Associates’ every proposal. If we are putting up an SDL on Managed Aquifer Recharge [MAR] and ridiculous replies are given to Golder Associates about the ability to have underground dams or managed aquifer recharge in the Murray Darling Basin, I really struggle to see how the SDL program will be adopted.
Golders have 1,200 underground outfits working around the world. I apologized to them after that meeting for the triteness of the MDBA representatives. Fortunately, tonight we will have some influence on the questions that the MDBA will have to face at Senate estimates, which I am looking forward to.
‘The Coorong, lower lakes and Murray mouth arrangement appears to us to be completely at odds with wisdom’
The Coorong, lower lakes and Murray mouth arrangement appears to us to be completely at odds with wisdom. The drainage of the south-east of South Australia is being diverted out to the ocean when we have very good evidence that that water could either be run into the Coorong on the surface or come up through the aquifers underneath, through twofers, to power up the Coorong. That water would then run back into the lower lakes. You are talking about 140 kilometres of sand dunes. We all know that water runs through sand particularly well. The notion that the Murray mouth has to be open for 95 per cent of the time defies the facts. We are particularly appalled at the application of facts to the Coorong, lower lakes and Murray mouth.
‘..we send down out of New South Wales and Victoria (To South Australia) virtually pristine water at 250 ECs (Salt content)…. South Australia converts that to 1,000 to 1,500 nearer the barrages, and apparently that is our fault.’
Getting back to the hoary old subject of salt, we send down out of New South Wales and Victoria virtually pristine water at 250 ECs (Electrical Conductivity – a salt content measurement). South Australia converts that to 1,000 to 1,500 nearer the barrages, and apparently that is our fault. I have real trouble with that, considering Morgan is a fair way into South Australia.
‘…we had to pay Water NSW (for assets), but Water NSW will not give us a list of assets.’
The Hon. PAUL GREEN: That is right, the loss of water. You talked about the Government being more transparent in terms of listing assets. Please clarify what your user group would like to see.
Mr. Pyle: I brought this up at IPART (Independent Pricing And Regulatory Tribunal) in front of Water NSW. I said I was perplexed because we had to pay Water NSW but Water NSW will not give us a list of assets. I said, “I will pick one, and you tell me how this works”. I picked the weir at Yarrawonga. That was put there for surge for Murray Irrigation and also for Victoria. It takes two days to get water from the Hume weir to there. If there is a hot spell that will be drawn down and if it rains that will raise up. Well, the people of Yarrawonga and Mulwala petitioned to have the water level kept at one level. So, are we still levied for the Yarrawonga structure?
We also have real estate which is burgeoning on this fixed water lake, and we have tourists. So I asked Water NSW what percentage of that structure do we have to pay for, given that there are all these other groups profiting mightily out of it. It is an old structure, so it should not cost too much. But what is its value?
Hume Dam—we have already paid for that. We have been levied since my grandfather started this caper, for weir fees. We pretty much own that. What else in the system causes us to have to pay such a vast amount of money to Water NSW? And some of that is siphoned off to pay for the Murray Darling Basin Authority [MDBA]. That is not on. I just cannot see how anyone can countenance that. If it is a tax, call it a tax and get on with it. But if you are going to belt us with fake assets, no, that is not on.
‘…we could produce $600 per megalitre farm gate, which is 600 million,’
The community obligation thing, I was going to run with that, but I do not know how to do that, and we do not have enough money or time to run that sort of a thing. I was hoping that Treasurer Berejiklian would get on with that.
The Hon. MATTHEW MASON-COX: She is the Premier now.
The Hon. PENNY SHARPE: She is the Premier now. She should be able to fix it.
Mr. PYLE: I am aware of that. At the time she was Treasurer, so that is when I met her last, with three other farmers and we had grievances. One of those grievances was remedied partly but the other ones were not. I brought it to her attention that if a million megalitres was taken back from the environment for productive use we could produce $600 per megalitre farm gate, which is 600 million, and with a multiplier of eight is four billion and as Treasurer she was excited. We think that we have a person on the other side of the range who is aware that we can do good things. I asked her to come down when she was Treasurer. Now she is Premier it is a bit harder, we think. But anyway I was going to try that, to fly her around, to show here what we have got, what we had and what we could have.
Mr. PYLE: I just like things that people who pay my stipend to run Southern Riverina Irrigators can understand. If I go back and I have got some fabulous computer program that you put that in, Ms Scoullar has just enunciated that the bloody phones do not work out here half the time. We have got satellites. I note mine was off again last night. It is very busy up there for satellites, apparently.
‘We have got this disconnect between people that are highly productive, most efficient and very clever but are precluded from good decision-making…’
The fundamental problems to irrigators’ decisions on creating our nation’s wealth are getting diffused. It is easy for bureaucrats to roll over the facts because they know 200 acronyms, whereas some of us probably choke on five. We have got this disconnect between people that are highly productive, most efficient and very clever but are precluded from good decision-making by myriad facts that are not connected.
When you hear that carryover is carried over in Menindee Lakes when it is empty, that should have raised a few eyebrows. But that was put in the 2004 water sharing plan. I struggle with that concept. Most of my irrigators believed that carryover was lost when the Hume Dam spilt. No, that does not apply.